Stop number ORANGE 3: Look for a CWGC headstone (that’s one of the tall white war ones) over to your right. This will be the grave of Rupert Harrall.
CWGC grave of R Harrall
Read Rupert’s story below and when you are ready to go to the next story click on the dot/circle for J Barry.
Rupert Harrall's grave
Ship Street (SWOP MHW24893)
Rupert Harrall 1885-1916
My name is Rupert Harrall. In many ways I was just an ordinary lad from Wycombe but like my friends and my brother and everyone who fought and fell fighting for King and Country, I had a purpose. I died in 1916 not just for my country, but for my family.
I was born into a large family in 1885 and lived at 21 Ship Street, High Wycombe. My Father Algernon was a French polisher for all of his career, and my mother Elizabeth looked after the family. In my early years, I worked as an errand boy but by 1911, I was working as a carpenter and joiner for Mr Harris of Easton Street. Like my friends and family, I was a keen follower of Wycombe Wanderers, and my cousin Mr Gorman played for the club. We were a poor family, but more fortunate than most, Dad being a skilled worker. In my early 20s, I met a beautiful girl, the love of my life, Miss Gertrude Pusey. Soon after, I proposed to her and she accepted! Things were going so well for me, but it was in 1911 when suddenly, that all changed.
Tuberculosis was a killer in 1911. I remember often hearing of how suddenly such healthy human beings had had their lives ruined by the disease. Gertrude was one of them. I remember when she was diagnosed and was sent to the sanatorium to recover. It was hard but at least we had some hope that she would recover. But then she got worse and was diagnosed with meningitis – a swelling around the brain. She was passing in and out of consciousness. It was a death sentence. What pains me most is that she died in isolation before we could even marry.
In 1913, my mother followed Gertrude to the grave. And that was partly why in 1915, I signed up and joined the 1st Bucks Battalion; for my beautiful fiancé and my dear mother. The Battalion was full of men from Wycombe and I knew many of them. My brother Edward joined up with me, and the lucky devil got into the Royal Flying Corps. Being in separate forces meant we didn’t see much of each other at all, but it was brilliant that he got in – there were only 161 aircraft at the time, and many thousands who wanted to fly them.
After some basic training I proceeded to the front, it was May 1915. Things were going well for me in the army, and soon I was promoted to Lance Corporal. How proud Mother and dear Gertrude would have been to see me then: Lance Corporal Rupert Harrall. But like before, it was just as things were going well, that they took a turn for the worse.
In June 1916 we arrived in the Somme, ready for the big push. We weren’t immediately in the front line and were at first used to support others. Finally our time came to be in the front. We were to be involved in the Battle at Pozieres, a village (or what was left of a village) on a bit of high land. On August 24th we had successfully attacked just south of Pozieres and we captured and held the German Sky-line Trench. It was in this attack that I was severely wounded on August 24th 1916. Many other men from Wycombe were also hurt or killed.
I couldn’t believe it. I would never fight again. My spinal cord was severed and the bone badly splintered. Though medics tried to treat me, there was very little they could do to treat a wound like mine. I couldn’t be turned, and so the wound was left virtually untreated. It was agony. From the first, no hope was entertained for my recovery. I was brought back to England, to South Meads Hospital in Bristol, where I saw my final days, and on Friday, 8th September 1916, I died. My father was at my side. I was buried here, reunited with my fiancée. I’m told my funeral was beautiful, and after the service three volleys were fired over the grave and the last post was played. Some of my comrades even wrote to my father. The flowers on my grave said “In memory of dear Rupert, from his sorrowing father, brother and sisters. He answered his country’s call.”
My brother Edward survived the tortures of the Somme and married Hilda Turner when the terrible war was coming to an end in 1918. I don’t want my legacy to be one of sadness. I didn’t join up in search of sadness, in fact like many I joined up in search of hope for a better future, for my country, for my family. And so I want my legacy to be one of hope: that a tragedy like the Somme may never happen again.
Rupert Harrall researched and performed by Luca Webb To see the performance on YouTube click here.